In the gym, at home, or wherever you train, you can do this burner of a lower-body workout with nothing more than a single heavy object to hold.
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I had four knee surgeries by the time I was 22 due to football injuries and—I’ll own it—from training like an idiot when I was younger. All I used to care about was going heavy or going home, no matter the cost to my body. But when my surgeon told me I had the cartilage damage of an 80-year-old following my final operation, I knew I had to find a new approach to training my legs while sparing my joints. Anyone nodding along yet?
I’m now 36 and my legs have never been bigger and most importantly, my knees have never felt better. I credit a great deal of this to adopting a smarter, more risk-averse exercise selection for leg day. And if I had to pick just one lower-body builder to construct that day around, it would be the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) or rear-foot-elevated split squat.
I’m not alone, either. This is a move that both bodybuilders and high-performance athletes and coaches swear by. And if you ride it hard for all it’s worth for a few weeks like I lay out here, it can pay off big time. Here’s everything you need to know.
| From Bulgaria with Love |
A number of studies over the last decade have compared the BSS to the barbell back squat, and over and over again, have found similar strength and muscle gains, as well as overall muscle activation, ground force production, and even testosterone production using the BSS.[1-3] The difference? They needed far less weight—and far less loading on the spine and knees—to get those effects.
Plenty of people simply never feel comfortable doing heavy back squats, either. This shouldn’t be discounted! There’s no law dictating that one squat “counts” and another doesn’t. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, with long femurs, back squats have just never felt right for my body. But I found the
perfect muscle-building marriage with Bulgarians, which have unique benefits compared to traditional squatting:
• Lighter loads go further
• Less spinal loading
• Improves strength imbalances between sides
• Improves hip mobility
•Unreal muscle pumps
The only downside? They’re humbling, painful during the set, and can make you sore like nothing else. But it’s the good kind of sore. Don’t worry, you’ll heal up.
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